Civil disobedience crept into the Fort Worth City Council chambers early Wednesday morning as emotions ran high and tension mounted as dozens waited to hear whether the council would come together and agree to support a lawsuit challenging Senate Bill 4, the so-called anti-sanctuary cities law that goes into effect in two weeks.
With time ticking to the start of the law, it became evident how passionate the nearly 90 speakers were, about a dozen speaking against joining the lawsuit. Rhetoric among the council members was even strong and showed the potential for rancor.
In the end, and as anticipated, five council members voted not to join the lawsuit, but four did.
“This is not the first time we have agreed to disagree. We’ve had tough votes, but nothing like this,” Councilwoman Kelly Allen Gray said. “It is the first time involving diversity in our city that has divided us.”
But after the heckling and the shouts of hatred, council members say the city will wait and hope for the best as the law takes effect Sept. 1 and as the lawsuit plays out in the courts. It’s time for the community to heal, council members said.
Mayor Betsy Price said the council needs to focus on working through the trust issues the community has with the police department, and the lack of respect that has permeated throughout the city.
“I’m hopeful we can move forward. There’s lessons to be learned on both sides,” Price said.
Police Chief Joel Fitzgerald said his department is constructing a policy regarding SB4 that focuses on making sure its officers don’t engage in discriminatory practices or racial profiling.
“This law is going to be very difficult for us to enforce,” Fitzgerald said. “What we’re asking is that you give us a chance. Understand that our department will do everything in its power to make sure we treat everyone fairly, with dignity and with respect.”
The law was signed by Gov. Greg Abbott in May. SB4 allows local law enforcement officers to question the immigration status of people they stop or arrest. SB4 also requires police chiefs and sheriffs to comply with federal requests to hold criminal suspects for deportation or face hefty fines, among other things.
In June, Maverick County and the city of El Cenizo filed a federal lawsuit in San Antonio challenging its constitutionality. Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Dallas have joined the suit.
Councilman Brian Byrd expressed dissatisfaction with the state legislature that passed the law.
“This thing is so complicated, we’re just starting to understand it,” said Byrd, who voted to not join the lawsuit. “They sent a law that’s ambiguous and the complexity of the law are what we’re having to deal with and they’re not. This issue is being fought in the wrong chamber.”
Daniel Garcia Rodriquez, 22, a senior political science student at Texas Wesleyan University who helped found United Fort Worth, a grassroots group established to fight the council on SB4, said he was “shattered” by the council vote.
Rodriguez says his strategy at United Fort Worth going forward is to reorganize and get Hispanics out to vote, a sector of the Fort Worth population that tends to have low voter turnout.
“We did everything we could to communicate the feelings, communicate the distrust, the fear our community will have when SB4 is implemented,” he said. “It’s unfortunate.”